In the late afternoon of December 31, 2011, the Beloved and I were in the car, heading from Novato to Napa in California. The car radio was set to NPR — not a bad thing — and an ingenuous young woman reporter for ALL THINGS CONSIDERED came on to ask the pressing question: what sound was prevalent in all the pop music hits of 2011? I heard a throbbing beat that was soon drowned out by some version of electronic thrumming and whining . . . and then she came on the air to answer her own question: four beats on the bass drum. Here’s the transcription of what she said:
There’s one sound that pretty much dominated pop music this year. Monster hits by LMFAO, Adele, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Britney Spears and more all relied on the hammering beat known as “four-on-the-floor.”
“You feel it in your whole body, just on every beat: boom, boom, boom, boom,” says Jordan Roseman. “It’s so easy to understand, it’s almost hard not to move to it.”
Roseman, better known as DJ Earworm, is intimately familiar with these songs and their matching beats. He mixed them all together in his annual mashup of the year’s biggest pop hits, a series he calls “The United State of Pop.” He says that four-on-the-floor, while not a new sensation, dominated the radio dial in 2011.
“It goes back to disco. Right when these big speakers came along, all of a sudden the kick drum took this new prominence in music because you could really feel it,” Roseman says. “It’s definitely peaking right now.”
You can download Roseman’s 2011 mashup, “World Go Boom,” at the DJ Earworm website.
Call me a nostalgia-addled dinosaur, a Swing Era relic (I’ve been called worse) but I thought “four on the floor” was cherished standard practice in all jazz performance until the very early Forties when (let’s say) Kenny Clarke started dropping bombs.
Before then, a drummer who couldn’t keep time — not necessarily loud — on the bass drum was considered inept, rather like the novice waitperson who has to ask each of the two diners, “Who gets the Greek omelet?”
I wish that the NPR story created a rush to study the recordings and videos of the masters: Krupa, Dodds, Jones, Catlett, Tough, Wettling, Marshall, Stafford, King, Berton,Morehouse, Singleton, Hanna, Bauduc, Leeman, Rich, Drootin, Dougherty, Walter Johnson, Spencer, Webb, Bellson, Shadow Wilson, Best, and a hundred more — or to sit at the feet of the contemporary percussion masters Smith, Burgevin, Hamilton, Dorn, Tyle, Baker, Siers . . . but somehow I don’t see this happening any time soon.
Because, as you know, “It all goes back to disco,” and our contemporary awareness of the past can be measured with a micrometer.